I Am Ruth Thine Handmaid (Part 1)
When Boaz awoke on the threshingfloor and asked who was at his feet, he received answer, “I am Ruth thine handmaid” (Ruth 3:9). “Handmaid” means “maid-servant” or “slave girl.” Both Ruth’s position at Boaz’s feet and her plea for him to spread his skirt over her demonstrate that she possessed a servant’s heart. In the book, Ruth willingly made herself a servant of Naomi, Boaz, and God. As individuals today who are supposed to be the servants of God and man, it behooves us to study the story of this great servant.
A Faithful Servant - Three times Naomi attempted to get Ruth to turn back to Moab (Ruth 2:8, 12, 15). Although the temptation to go back to her homeland must have been strong, Ruth refused to leave Naomi. In fact, Ruth’s words to Naomi demonstrate a kind of faithfulness so admired that they have often been used in marriage ceremonies (Ruth 1:16-17; cf. Rom. 7:2; Mt. 19:9; Mal. 2:16). As you know, marriage is about leaving, cleaving, and weaving (Gen. 2:24). How sad it is that some have changed the “till death do us part” of the traditional marriage vow to “as long as love shall last.” These individuals know nothing of the faithfulness of Ruth. Ruth’s statement to Naomi can be broken up into three parts:
- The plea – “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.”
- The promise – “For wither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”
- The punishment – “The Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:17). Ruth’s commitment to Naomi was so strong that she bound herself under a curse.
Clearly, Naomi took Ruth’s promise seriously. After all, when she saw that Ruth was “steadfastly minded to go with her,” she left off speaking to her (Ruth 1:18). “Steadfastly” means “strong.” Ruth was strongly minded to go with Naomi. Baker and Carpenter suggest that the word means “to persist in an activity.” Although Naomi could persuade Orpah, one of her daughters in law, to turn back, she could not persuade Ruth. We read, “Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her and they came to Bethlehem” (1:22).
What about us? Are we faithful servants? Are we as steadfastly minded to walk with Christ as she was to walk with Naomi? How easily are we persuaded to turn back? Will we go on even if those closest to us turn back? No doubt, we want to one day hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21). However, to hear these words, we must stedfastly continue in the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42) and faithfully abide in Christ until death (Rev. 2:10). Unlike Orpah, we must not turn back (John 6:66; cf. Lk. 9:62; Heb. 10:38; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). Like Ruth, we are bound under a curse if we turn from the promise that we have made (2 Pet. 2:21; Lk. 12:47; John 15:22). William J. Reynolds, in the song, “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus,” perfectly captures the faithfulness which must be displayed by servants of God. Please consider the words with me:
I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided, to follow Jesus, No turning back, no turning back.
Though I may wonder, I still will follow, Though I may wonder, I still will follow, Though I may wonder, I still will follow, No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow, Though none go with me, still I will follow, Though none go with me, still I will follow, No turning back, no turning back!
The world behind me, the cross before me, The world behind me, the cross before me, The world behind me, the cross before me, No turning back, no turning back!
It should be noted that there are several versions of this song. I picked these verses because they so closely fit the events recorded in the book of Ruth. As in the song, Ruth three times made the decision to go with Naomi. No doubt, as in the song, Ruth wondered and had many questions as she left her homeland. Yet, she did not let these questions stop her from following Naomi. Furthermore, as in the song, Ruth returned even though Orpah wouldn’t go with her. Finally, as in the song, she put Moab, the only world she had ever known, behind her.
Let’s See How They Are Doing
Unquestionably, the apostle Paul was one of the greatest soul winners of all time! We could learn a lot by trying to emulate his love for lost souls and his determination to teach the good news of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) to every individual he encountered (from the lowliest of slaves to the highest of kings). But, there is something more we can learn from this great apostle.
Paul was not merely concerned with getting folks baptized. Are we guilty of that sometimes? Do we focus so much on the culmination of seeing someone immersed into Christ that we neglect to follow up in the days after their conversion? When Paul was getting ready to embark on his second missionary journey, he said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). Did you catch that? Let’s go and see how they are doing! Their continued growth as babes in Christ was so critically important!
That reality has not changed! Just as newborn babies need special care and attention until they grow to take care of themselves, so babes in Christ need special care and attention until they mature to a stronger faith in Christ. They need this attention from the elders. They need this attention from special programs in the church. Truly, they need this attention from every member of the body of Christ.
Brethren, do you know someone who was recently converted to Christ? Maybe in the last few weeks, but even in the last year or two? Let us make up our minds to see how they are doing by:
1. Texting them. Just a short note of encouragement from a fellow Christian can make a huge difference.
2. Calling them. A text is nice but hearing someone’s voice on the phone is even better.
3. Sending them a handwritten card. There’s something particularly effective about seeing a message in someone’s own handwriting. In this card you could say, “Here’s something that has helped me as a Christian—to grow and to remain faithful.”
4. Intentionally seeking them out at services. Don’t just wait and “if we happen to run into each, I’ll say something.” Make it a point to find them.
5. Spend time with them outside of services. Build a relationship with them, so that they truly feel a part of the family of God. What you do for them, they will do for other converts.
Let’s decide today to go and see how they are doing! Let’s decide today to help them to remain faithful!
We Know Better Sometimes, Don’t We?
Did your children ever talk back to you? Frustrating, wasn’t it? Who did they think they were? Why do children talk back to their parents? It’s because they think they know better and/or because they want their way and are not interested in the parents’ way. But, when we get older, we outgrow that “talking back” thing, right?
Interestingly, there are some who will not outgrow that “talking back” thing, even after they die. There is an interesting account in Luke 16 of a glimpse into a scene of two men after they died. Jesus tells of a rich man who died and went to “torments” (16:22-23). He struck up a conversation with Abraham, whom the rich man was able to see “afar off” in Paradise. He begged Abraham to send the beggar named Lazarus, who was in Paradise, to return to the rich man’s house and “testify” to his five brothers, “lest they also come to this place of torment” (16:27-28).
The rich man’s request was not going to be granted. Abraham responded to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (16:29). In other words, they have the Bible (at least the portion that had been written by this time). Abraham said that the rich man’s brothers needed to listen to Scriptures, to which they had access.
The rich man’s retort is fascinating. He was having a conversation with an apparent representative of God (for Paradise is called “Abraham’s bosom” in verse 22), and he was not satisfied with the information that was being given. He quickly replied, “No, father Abraham” (16:30). Can you imagine snapping back at a representative of God by saying, “No”? That almost reminds you of your kids talking back to you, doesn’t it? That’s what the rich man was doing. “NO, father Abraham; BUT if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” You see, the rich man, like your kids, knew better than Abraham. He was not satisfied with the response that his brothers needed to read the Bible, and so he offered his “better” solution with the word “But” to express its superiority.
Abraham calmly replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (16:31). There was one way for his brothers to come to know the truth and avoid the fiery torments, and if they ignored that one way, there was no other option that would alter their course.
Do we sometimes think we know better than God? Do we sometimes read God’s expectations for us and think, “No. But this idea that I have would be better”? May God help us to learn from the rich man that we do not know better than God. May we read, accept, love and follow the Bible.
The Stone of Navigation (Nehemiah 5)
Each chapter in the book of Nehemiah gives us a stone that we must revive to rebuild the Lord’s work. The stone in the fifth chapter is the stone of navigation. Although Nehemiah’s leadership is seen throughout the book in various ways, it comes to the forefront in the fifth chapter. Nehemiah leads the people through some very difficult circumstances. We see his leadership in his indignation, his contemplation, his motivation, and his demonstration.
The fifth chapter begins with a great outcry of the people and their wives. The people were facing harsh economic circumstances. Many of them had mortgaged their lands to buy food and to pay their taxes. Some of their children had even been forced into bondage. To make matters worse, they were being taken advantage of by their own brethren. Their brethren were charging them usury or interest. When Nehemiah heard of how brethren were taking advantage of brethren, he became very angry (Neh. 5:6). Good leaders are passionate. They feel things deeply, they care about those that they lead, and they hate injustice. Good leaders get angry; sometimes, as in Nehemiah’s case, very angry. In fact, they might even get angry every day. God does. The psalmist wrote, “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). Nehemiah had many reasons to be angry. First, these men were violating the law of God by charging usury. Second, these men were giving the enemy a reason to reproach them. Third, these men were undoing the good that Nehemiah and others were doing.
Although Nehemiah was very angry, he didn’t speak or act hastily or foolishly. He gave serious thought before rebuking those in the wrong (Neh. 5:7). Good leaders think before they say or do something that they will later regret. David wrote, “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psa. 4:4). Good leaders are slow to wrath. James wrote, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20; cf. Prov. 14:17; 16:32).
Good leaders are great motivators. They know how to get people to do the right thing. To motivate those who were charging their brethren usury to stop this practice and to restore what had been taken, Nehemiah called a great assembly of people against them (Neh. 5:7). He wanted these men to see those that they were hurting. Furthermore, he called the priests to take a solemn oath to ensure that those who had taken advantage of their brethren didn’t go back on their word (Neh. 5:7-13).
Good leaders don’t just talk, they do. Nehemiah practiced what he preached. He declared, “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions. But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God. Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work. And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us. Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people. Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh. 5:14-19). Nehemiah’s life was the greatest asset that he had as a leader.
If we are going to be successful in rebuilding the work of the Lord where we are, we are going to have to revive the stone of navigation. We are going to have to find leaders who can and will lead us like Nehemiah did his people in the long ago.
The Stone of Dedication (Nehemiah 4)
Each chapter of the book of Nehemiah gives us another stone that must be revived to rebuild the work of God. So far, we have noticed the stones of supplication, preparation, and coordination. In this installment of our study, we will notice the stone of dedication. We will see the dedication of Nehemiah and the people in the hearts, the hands, and the hours that they gave to the work.
“So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6). Please note that the people had a mind to work. Their hearts were in what they were doing. Had they only been going through the motions or half-hearted about the work of rebuilding, they would have quit. The context reveals that they faced great ridicule from those in the region. We read, “But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:1-3). Although these words must have stung them, they didn’t stop them.
“So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon” (Neh. 4:16-17). When ridicule didn’t stop the work, the enemies in the region threatened to attack them. We read, “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion… And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.” (Neh. 4:7-8, 11). The enemy hoped to create confusion and to cause the work to cease. Although the enemy wasn’t able to stop the work, they did slow it tremendously. Some of the workers had to be assigned to guard duty. Others had to work with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other.
“So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.” So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing” (Neh. 4:21-23). Please note the long hours that they worked. They were dedicated to completing this project as soon as possible.
How dedicated are we to the work of the Lord today? Are our hearts in it? Are we working with both hands? Are we willing to get up early and to stay up late until the job is done?